10,000 Years From Now

“Are we being good ancestors?” – Jonas Salk

Last weekend I was watching a documentary about the science behind immortality and was struck by a moving story about eternal life, love, and what one would do if they could live for A Thousand Years.  On the surface, it seems to be a wondrous gift — the power to cheat death, to escape one’s own inevitable mortality.  But on the other side, when thinking about it deeper — it seems that it could be an incredible curse — especially if it were a burden you bore alone.  This morning, as I continued to build the next story I want to tell in my mind…I watched this documentary again.

One of the things that makes us distinctly “human,” is that we know our lives are finite, that our own time here and that of everyone else we love will someday run out.  The pain of this loss is also a blessing in disguise — teaching us humility, respect for what we have, and most of all compassion for others, because while life itself  may be random and in fact ordinary it is still fragile and something to be deeply cherished nonetheless.

While the entire documentary was fascinating, the last seven minutes stood out the most for me.  In San Francisco is an organization called “The Long Now” Foundation.  According to their web site http://www.longnow.org they hope to provide a counterpoint to today’s accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common. Creatively fostering responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.  To aid this realization they hope to invoke within all of us, their founder Daniel Hillis, created a clock so beautiful, complex, and intricate that it is designed to run for the next 10,000 years by combining state-of-the-art digital technology with what our oldest ancestors used to tell time and track the changing seasons — the celestial bodies in the sky, particularly the sun.

The Long Now Clock, which ticks once a year and will continue to do so for a staggering 10,000 years

According to Hillis, he hoped that the mere sight of this clock would inspire us to alter the way we think about time and our own consciousness the way that images of the Earth from outer space forced us to shift the way we looked at the environment in the late 20th century.  And that is why Hillis created it, the same reason that he worked with others to establish this organization — because he feels that the way we view time, and our own existence is self-destructive.

The Long Now Foundation sights “a pathologically short attention span” that we all have.  A great combination of accelerating communication technologies, big-market, quick-rich modern economics, and the perspective of “next-election” democracies have fed an obsession with short-term thinking according to the LNF.  They hypothosize that we are not living life in with the balance and respect for it that we should.  We have been consumed by a desire for instant gratification, coupled with an obsessive inability to focus and enjoy the more important things in life.   This means that our most cherished relationships suffer, he sights an ever-increasing rise in divorce rates as evidence of this.  Beyond here, what seems to be the greater loss is the importance of looking at long-term responsibility for our actions and how they effect not only others in the presence, but our descendants centuries from now.  If you believe in the concept of The Butterfly Effect, then now would be the time to deeply consider its meaning — that everything you or I do effects everything else.  Hillis and his co-founders at the Long Now Foundation multiply this theory by the infinity of time.

Here are the Foundation’s Values…

  • Serve the long view
  • Foster responsibility
  • Reward patience
  • Mind mythic depth
  • Ally with competition
  • Take no sides
  • Leverage longevity

The Long Now Foundation's "Layers of Time"

Now I for one do not believe in a deep focus only on the future.  There is a tremendous value to living life “in-the-moment,” but it seems to me that the values listed above and the problems the organization finds with the way many of us currently “perceive” life are concepts I can definitely agree with.  Most of all because I feel that an obsession on instant gratification impedes what is most important within each of us — reaching our full potential, and discovering our bliss.

In the end, it may be that time is only our concept, what we use to help us see the bigger picture of existence and how we all fall into its story.  None of us will be here to see what lies ahead 1,000 years from now, nevermind 10,000 years from now.  What is true and definitive is that while we are not immortal, the effects of our actions are from the moment we are born we are each playing an unseen part in the story of all of us.  I agree that we have lost sight of this truth more and more in recent years, the awesome fragility and responsibility of our words and acts.

I also think it’s a shame that we need a giant mechanical clock to set us straight again…don’t you?

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~ by Dan Fabrizio on August 14, 2011.

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